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How I’m Saving Over $1,500 On My Next Disney Trip

Disney World Marathon

My next trip to Disney World will be for the  Marathon weekend which is the weekend of January 9th, 2015. This year instead of running I’ll just be a spectator cheering on friends though the marathon bug may bite again – we’ll see.

With it now being the middle of the summer it’s time to start thinking about how I’m going to use miles and points to reduce the costs of my trip as much as possible. My next round of credit card applications is going to be completely for this trip so I’ll need to find cards that I can use to fly, stay and drive in Lake Buena Vista for as cheaply as possible.

My goal for this next trip is to see just how much cost I can cut from all aspects of the trip. My target is to keep my spending under $1,500 total for two people. We’ll be going for a long weekend (4-5 days) so the $1,500 budget is going to be a tough number to stay under for two people but I’m confident that I can do it!

My strategy for saving money on vacations is to start at the top (highest costs) items and see how I can reduce or minimize those costs the most. The strategy that many people take is to start at the bottom by using strategies like packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner each night in the parks. That’s just not for me, when I’m on vacation I like to enjoy myself.

I don’t know about you but I’d rather focus my efforts to reducing the cost of a $300 plane ticket or a $500 hotel stay versus saving maybe $50 on food by eating PBJs for dinner every night, not to mention how not enjoyable that would be.

Here are my credit card application strategies to get our flights, hotel and car rentals for as cheaply as possible – hopefully for free!


I’ve mentioned it many times – my favorite airline to fly to Orlando is Southwest for many different reasons. First off they don’t hit you with many of the BS fees like baggage and change fees that just about all other airlines do. Even though I will still just carry on it’s nice to know that if I do want to check my bag I can free of charge.

Luckily Southwest flies direct from Philadelphia to Orlando multiple times a day so I’ll have many flight options.

Southwest Flights

Many flight options out of Philadelphia to Orlando

Southwest is a revenue based frequent flier program so the points needed is tied to the cost of the fare, generally you’ll much less in the way of miles on Southwest to fly domestically. To determine the number of points required for a free flight you just multiply the cost of the fare by 70 and you’ll have an idea of the number required.

The other airline that I may go with is US Airways/American which also flies direct from Philadelphia to Orlando. A round trip ticket to Orlando from Philadelphia would be 25,000 US Airways Dividend miles so in my case 50,000 miles which is a lot of miles.

A better option would be to use British Airways Avios miles which is a distance based frequent flier program. British Airways is a partner with US Airways so I can redeem Avios to be used on US Airways flights.

The distance from Philadelphia to Orlando is about 900 miles which means that it would only require 7,500 Avios one way for a flight or 30,000 Avios miles total for two people round trip. That’s much less that the 50,000 miles that would be required from US Airways.

The current best credit card sign up bonus for British Airways is 50,000 miles which would be more than enough for two round trip flights.

I love flying Southwest to Orlando

I love flying Southwest to Orlando

Unfortunately Southwest just ended their 50,000 point credit card sign up offer which is a bummer because that’s what I would be jumping on for these flights. Luckily they run these larger sign up bonuses pretty frequently so I’m going to hold off and hope that they bring back the offer.

Southwest is only accepting reservations through January 4th, 2015 right now so I still have some time to book my flight. When it gets a little closer I’ll have to make a decision on Southwest vs. US Airways.

Original Cost: $500 – $600
My Cost: $20 – $50 + miles


When it comes to hotels I have many options from many of the largest chains that have a presence in the Lake Buena Vista area – Hilton, Starwood, Mariott, Wyndham plus many more.

My favorite point currency that I’ve talked about in the past is Starpoints from Starwood which can easily get over $0.04 in value for each point. Even better is that the Swan and Dolphin are Westins meaning you can use Starpoints for free nights at those hotels.

Hope to Stay at the Swan/Dolphin on this trip

Hope to Stay at the Swan/Dolphin on this trip

I recently applied for the Starwood Preferred Guest Business card that will give me 35,000 Starpoints after hitting the spend requirement with no annual fee. Those 35,000 points will only get me 3 free nights at the Swan/Dolphin so I’ll either have to go with another location or use cash+points.

The Swan/Dolphin costs 5,000 points + $75 a night with cash+points which is what I’ll probably have to go with to make it work with Starpoints. The only downside is that will run me around $400 for 5 nights which would be a large chunk of my $1,500 budget.

I could combine free nights with cash+points nights to minimize the costs a little more. What I could do is redeem for two free nights at a cost of 20,000 points leaving me with 15,000 points left for the remaining three nights. The other 3 nights will only cost me around $250 which is much more manageable and within my budget.

It looks like Starwood hasn’t loaded up any cash+points rewards yet for 2015 so I’ll have to hold off on making any reservations until they are loaded into the system.

Original Cost: $800 – $1200
My Cost: $250

Rental Cars

I’ll be staying offsite as well as traveling up to Universal Studios to check out Harry so I’ll be needing a rental car for my trip. I recently wrote about how I’ve used to get discounted rental cars but why pay when I could get a car for free?

I have about 20,000 Citi Thank You points from previous Citi credit card signups that I’ve been holding onto. When booking rental cars through the portal you will get $0.01 in value out of each point meaning that I have $200 worth of rental car that I can get with my points.


Many rental car options under 20,000 points

Looking through the portal for the dates I’m traveling I can get a rental car for as low as 17,000 points and up from there depending on the class of car I get. This is great news which means the rental car will cost me nothing!

Original Cost: $175 – $200
My Cost: $0!

Final Thoughts

So far I should be on a good path to staying under my budget of $1500 for this trip. I should be able to greatly reduce or eliminate completely three of the largest costs for any vacation – flights, hotels and rental cars.

With just two credit card applications I’m able to remove over $1,500+ in cost from my upcoming trip. My next big challenge will be to find a way to reduce the cost of theme park tickets which I’ll cover off in another post.

Have any questions on my points strategy for my next trip? Ask in the comments and I’ll be sure to respond!

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